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Rediscovered Millipede Has a Leg Up on Competitors

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Rediscovered Millipede Has a Leg Up on Competitors

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Rediscovered Millipede Has a Leg Up on Competitors

Rediscovered Millipede Has a Leg Up on Competitors

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Scientists are reporting the rediscovery of a millipede that had not been seen in some time. It has 750 legs. Despite the name, no known millipede actually has 1,000 legs. But this species comes closer than any.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Another evolutionary oddity is described in the current issue of the Journal of Nature. Scientists say they have rediscovered the leggiest animal on the plant. It's a millipede, but these animals don't actually have a thousand feet.

NPR's Richard Harris reports.

RICHARD HARRIS reporting:

Some kids simply love bugs and a few never grow out of it. Paul Marek admits he was hooked at the age of five. And as a graduate student at East Carolina University, one day he decided to track down the long lost king of millipedes, Illacme Plenipes, a creature known to have as many as 750 legs.

Mr. PAUL MAREK (Graduate Student, East Carolina University): It's a pretty cool species name when you think about it. It's Latin for the acme of plentiful feet.

HARRIS: Marek dug up a scientific paper about this creature published way back in 1928. It hadn't been seen since. The paper gave a general location in San Benito County, California.

Marek and his brother took maps and went hunting, and they found the first specimen within an hour of looking - exactly where, they won't say.

Mr. MAREK: A very interesting find. It was this extremely slender, thread-like, and about the length of your thumb.

HARRIS: Most people would probably not have given it a second look. But to a millipede taxonomist, this was a heady discovery indeed.

Mr. MAREK: I think I was pretty close to falling over, definitely. Near hyperventilating also.

HARRIS: His first task was to collect just a few choice specimens. That meant killing them.

Mr. MAREK: That's kind of a bummer. But it is - it would be pretty hard to keep this species alive.

HARRIS: Marek brought about a dozen samples back to the lab and looked at them under the microscope. The biggest, a female, had 666 legs. That's a lot. And it's not exactly clear why.

Usually, he says, they use legs for burrowing.

Mr. MAREK: But for this species, it almost seems like kind of an overkill.

HARRIS: Millipedes keep growing body segments as they age, and each body segment has four new legs. So someday perhaps a lucky taxonomist will actually come across a millipede that lives up to its name and has a thousand feet.

Richard Harris, NPR News.

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